Felix & Paul Studios just released Episode #3 of their Space Explorers: ISS Experience, which features some absolutely stunning & breathtaking shots captured outside of the International Space Station. They gave a sneak peak of some of this footage at the end of Meta’s Connect 2021, and some of those shots are included in Episode #3 titled “Unity,” and there will be more space walk footage included within Episode #4 launching later in 2022. In October, they also released a 7-minute montage of clips called Home Planet shot from the ISS Cupola Observation Module of the ISS view of the Earth. So in total there’s over 100 minutes of really compelling documentary footage that gives a visceral sense of what life on the ISS is like through the stories and phenomenological experiences shared by astronauts.
Felix Lajeunesse & Paul Raphaël won a 2021 Emmy for Outstanding Interactive Program for the first two episodes of Space Explorers: ISS Experience, and I had a chance to speak to them after the premiere of the 2nd episode at SXSW in March 2021. This series represents a culmination of everything they’ve learned both technically and the perspective of immersive storytelling as it’s some of the most compelling and engaging 360 video content that I’ve seen so far. We talked about building trust with NASA over many years, how they had to plan out story arcs over 6-month missions, the technical challenges of shooting 360 VR video in space, and the themes of diversity as they shot the first-ever, all-woman space walk.
Felix & Paul have also been experimenting with taking the 360-degree panoramic video shot in Space and creating television, IMAX, dome, and large-scale, location-based entertainment experiences — specifically The Infinite, which just recently opened up in Houston, Texas on December 20th.
The Space Explorers: ISS Experience is one of the more amazing 360 videos produced up to this point, and releasing a new episode just in time as VR gets a new batch of users from the holiday season.
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[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Wists of VR podcast. So a brand new episode of the Felix and Paul's Space Explorers, the ISS Experience, just dropped, and it's got some really stunning and amazing shots. They're taking the camera outside of the International Space Station for the first time to be able to share some of the different shots that they've been collecting over the last number of years in their collaboration of sending up this camera onto the International Space Station. So this is a four episode series and the episode 3 unite just dropped today on Wednesday December 22nd 2021 I first saw it I think back earlier this year at either South by Southwest I may have seen the earlier episode but at South by Southwest I was able to see advance and adjust the first two episodes and I did an interview them back in March of 2021 and At the MetaConnect 2021, they were premiering a new episode, which is an extra home planet episode that has shots from the cupola. You're able to look out what's essentially a framed version of what the Earth looks like, as the view of what the astronauts would look at. It's kind of the observation area to look at the Earth as you go around the Earth. They have about a seven-minute clip of different shots from the cupola. Then Unite starts to show some shots that are just absolutely breathtaking, where you see the sunset at the very beginning, and you see some shots out on the arm shot out in space. I'm looking forward to Episode 4, because I think there's going to be more shots that they previewed at the live event at the end of Connect 2021 to show some of the different shots that they've been collecting. Just absolutely incredible. In fact, when I did this conversation with them in March, I was like, I want to see those shots. And having seen them now, They are just one of the more amazing immersive experiences that I've had and the storytelling within the space explorers is also quite exquisite in fact Felix and Paul won another Emmy Award at the 7th or Emmy Awards for the outstanding interactive program So it's an Emmy awarding program that was produced in collaboration with Felix and Paul studios and time studios So definitely go check it out especially if you're brand new to VR and you want to show some of your friends and family What's even possible within virtual reality? So there's quite a lot of technical achievement for them to even accomplish this as well as you know What's it take to be able to actually shoot a documentary within space? So that's what coming on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Felix and Paul happened on Wednesday March 17th 2021 so with that let's go ahead and dive right in and
[00:02:43.735] Felix Lajeunesse: So I'm Félix Lajeunesse. I'm the co-founder and creative director of Félix & Paul Studios. I've been doing immersive content, creating immersive content for the last eight years, specifically focusing on virtual reality and augmented reality. And prior to that, I've been creating immersive work for a number of years using holography, stereoscopic projections, and working with Paul Raphael, who will introduce himself next.
[00:03:13.082] Paul Raphael: Yeah, I mean, I'm just going to replace my name with his. So Paul Raphael, everything else the same. You can add CTO to the multiple roles as well. And I've been doing pretty much the same thing Felix has for the last eight years. And yeah, it's great to talk to you again.
[00:03:31.934] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know we've run into each other at the festival circuit over the years on many different pieces. And I know that last time we talked with one of their pieces, I think it was at Sundance with one of the Space Explorers episodes. And I know that your vision of trying to get a camera, a virtual reality camera into space and do something with VR in space, in some sense, goes back to the beginning of what you've been doing with Felix and Paul. Maybe you could go back to the origin point of wanting to shoot something on the International Space Station and how that goal has kind of shaped the whole evolution of what you've been doing there at Felix and Paul.
[00:04:05.925] Felix Lajeunesse: Well, I can maybe start, Paul, and you can maybe add to it. You know, about eight and a half years ago, we shot our first immersive experience called Strangers with Patrick Watson, which was basically just a moment of pure presence where you're sitting with a musician inside of the studio and he's just playing music and you're just with him. And the whole point of that piece originally and what we wanted to validate through virtual reality as we started exploring that medium was just how deep a feeling of presence can we generate? Can we create true and immersive experience? And how much of a relation can we establish between the viewer and a protagonist who is with you inside of that space? And how much of a deep connection can we create between a person experiencing the piece and the environment? And so we were trying to get kind of the fundamentals of that. And when we realized that it actually worked and that it created something pretty profound and powerful, our mind just went spinning about the possibilities and all of the possible things that could be explored and accomplished through immersive media. And the idea of space, of actually leveraging the immersive power of that technology to transport people to outer space and experience life in space was there as a dream. It appeared as a very far away dream eight years ago, but it was there inside of our minds. And we were fans of 2001 A Space Odyssey, which is a film that is so experiential, that makes you feel space in a very visceral way. The beauty of it, the grace of it, but also the danger and the hostility of it. And there's just something so powerful and profound about the experience of watching that film and somehow everything kind of aligned. And we said, that's going to be a target for us, you know, and we're going to end up doing that eventually. Technologically speaking, eight years ago, we were not there creatively. We were on track, but we were not there. We had a lot of things to learn and figure out. And in a way, when we look back today at what we've been doing for the last two and a half years, producing ISS Experience, which is the largest media production ever made in space, When we look back at that and where we came from, it feels like everything was kind of a ramp up, a learning curve that eventually led us to a place where we could do something like that. A creative learning curve about presence-based media and a technological learning curve into doing something that can work and operate in a very complex environment for such a long period of time. So I don't know, Paul, if you want to add to this.
[00:06:35.143] Paul Raphael: Well, I mean, you know, the way we got there was so iterative. I mean, it's as if we broke it down in so many little steps and we just kept going. And, you know, at the time it was, OK, the very first conversations we had with NASA over five or six years ago were about shooting a spacewalk. But really what we ended up doing first was build a relationship. with them. We started with the first episodes of Space Explorers, which were shot down here on Earth in large collaboration with them. And, you know, it was partly to build the relationship, the friendships, understand the way things work, you know, the protocols, and also really understand what it means to do this, right? What were the steps and how do we rally the support from NASA and the different space agencies and private space companies that we've collaborated over the years? to get there and it was something that seemed like a blue sky dreaming goal very slowly concretized until one day we were watching a SpaceX rocket launch with our camera on it and it was happening. We popped a bottle of champagne and then the real hard work started when we were actually shooting on there and also starting to develop the camera that we sent a few months ago to shoot in outer space so outside of the ISS which, you know, we couldn't have skipped any of those steps. And I think we were very patient and that's been paying off.
[00:08:02.336] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, the first question that comes to mind for me after watching the two pieces now, which I thought were absolutely stunning, just the contrast between the most mundane antiseptic inside these boxes that there are just lots of technology that you're surrounded in, juxtaposed with being able to look out and see all of the earth as you're flying by it. So it's like this contrast to see the life of astronauts who seem to have very regimented lives in terms of their exercise and all the different tasks they have to do day to day. And so you have to budget time to have them get these cameras and to operate them and then to do a context switch into getting very personal about their lives or also just talking about what they're doing. And so maybe you talk about that process of how you start to work with astronauts who have lots of other things on their mind that they have to do day to day, but to like do this whole virtual reality project in space and how that was slotted into their schedule of their daily lives.
[00:08:57.273] Felix Lajeunesse: Well, it's a super important question. I think the best way to answer this is to say that fundamentally, astronauts on the space station, they are an experiment in themselves, meaning that there is a space station, there is one habitat that we have that is in low Earth orbit, orbiting the Earth, and 16 times a day. And we're sending humans to live inside of that habitat. So why are we doing that? Why does that matter as humanity? Well, we're learning to live in space, right? That's what we've been doing for the last 20 years on space station. We're trying to allow humanity and empower humanity to live in the most hostile environment known to evolution, which is the vacuum of space. And we're doing that to empower humans to actually venture further into the solar system Eventually go back to the moon, go to Mars and expand into the solar system and discover this universe that we can only watch from the ground or that we've been watching from the ground for thousands of years. Now we're actually physically going in there. So ISS, having humans on board, that is science in itself. It's the science of just humans trying to live in that environment. to create a project where you immerse audiences as if they became an additional crew member, you know, and that they discover that reality of just living, being part of that very singular community of being just one of the few humans who live off planet Earth and discover what they do, discover the way they live, the way they adapt to microgravity, the work that they do. That is part of what NASA is interested in communicating. So when we approached them with that project, And we approached them saying, look, this is going to be an opportunity to not watch astronauts do things, but actually get to feel like you're literally with them. You're the additional crew member. And that's also the way that we brief the astronauts. We said to them, look, this camera is not a camera. This is a person that you're actually going to bring with you in the scene. So if you're doing a crew meal, you're not going to place this camera at the middle of the table because no one would ever sit there. If it was a crew member, it would be right next to you at the same eye level with you guys so that that person feels involved. And that was the whole point. The whole series over two and a half years was filmed like that. So it's an opportunity I think for the first time ever to give audiences around the world a sense of really living that experience that to advance our evolution into the stars and being part of the journey instead of feeling so far away from it. So that was the original vision and then in order to be able to deploy it to make that happen we did have to negotiate time And we did that working with NASA, but working with the U.S. ISS National Lab. And their responsibility is to grant time to certain scientific payloads. So it's interesting because we were looked at as a scientific payload when we came on board the space station. And then you get hours, hours for performing the camera setups and the camera stowing and all of that. but also hours of their time as protagonists in front of the camera. And that process of getting hours was relative to what we wanted to accomplish from a storytelling standpoint. So we presented them with the story architecture, what we wanted to cover, what we wanted to go for. We knew that we could not just have them do that for a full week. So we would get a few hours here and there. over a long period of time. So we, in the story architecture, we knew that we would be filming for a long period of time over different expeditions. So we presented an approach to storytelling that would allow us to capture key moments across an expedition, you know, an expedition being more or less a six months mission of a few astronauts. from the moment they arrive to the moment they go back. And then we built all of the story arcs ahead of time, thinking of that two years plus architecture, and we submitted that. So that's kind of organically how it evolved and how they were part of the plan. They were part of the building of this, and they understood where we were heading with that creatively, conceptually. everything was pretty clear and that allowed us to get those hours, to get the involvement of the astronauts. They had to understand where we were going creatively, what we wanted to accomplish creatively, and they needed to feel like that's something that they wanted to happen as well. So that has been really a relationship building and a trust building process over a long period of time. Yeah.
[00:13:20.527] Paul Raphael: I think a big part of it was the impact. You know, when we first started shooting, we quickly put together a short reel, I think it was about five minutes, and started showing it around at NASA with the astronauts before they were going to leave or in the kiss of David Saint-Jacques shortly after he came back. And there was this overwhelming enthusiasm. You know, it was the first time they could actually communicate what it was like up there right in a way that went beyond the videos and the interviews that they might have done in the past and really this is the closest thing to being there and they could show that to their families they could show it to the hundreds of people down here on earth that enable them to go up there but who will never get to experience it and a large part of what NASA is about is the communication to the public, right, of what they're doing. And they wouldn't be doing what they're doing without the public support. So a large part of it is really communication is a huge part of this. And this, although virtual reality itself as a medium doesn't have the hugest user base yet, we're shooting this for the present and the future, I think. And we've built a foundation that has begun here on earth. has taken us on and soon off the ISS and we're planning for this to take us beyond that as well. So I think it's a major shift in the way space can be communicated to the masses and I think that's It's amazing that we've been able to do this because it's a big machine. The whole undertaking was no easy task and I think it would be a shame for it to end here and I don't think that's anyone's intention and everyone's kind of got their sights set on the future as well.
[00:15:05.122] Kent Bye: Yeah. And as you were talking about this, it sort of reminds me of how much your relationship to time changes. Even astronauts are on space going around earth 16 times, but yet you have to pace out your storytelling over this long six month period and even longer as you've been shooting all this footage. And I'm curious to hear if you were able to show the specific astronauts who were featured in any of the first two episodes as they were doing this project over six months or a year of all the shooting that you've been doing so far, if they were able to watch and reflect upon all the different dispatches that they were doing and how it all edited together and what their reactions were in terms of how you were able to capture not only the space, but also their stories.
[00:15:48.710] Felix Lajeunesse: Well, at South by Southwest this week, we're doing a panel with Jessica Meir, who's an astronaut who's going to be featured in episode three and four. And she reflected inside of that panel on how it felt to her to actually go back home. And I heard that also from McLean as well, another astronaut who's featured in Episode 1 and 2. And she's pretty much the main protagonist inside of Episode 2. And McLean, if you've seen her, So she's pretty amazing. And she also referred to that as going back home. So there is this feeling of familiarity inside of that environment. Even though Space Station is like living inside of a machine, when you live there for six months, you know, it becomes extremely intimate and it becomes something that you connect to and identify to as if it was home. And so they seem to all talk about that nostalgia, that feeling of going back to a place that really mattered to them. And in terms of capturing, you know, everything that we filmed versus everything that ended up in the actual story, I think that one thing that they all realize is that we really decided to go for a focus that is human spaceflight, because you could be on space station and you could be talking about just the science that they do aboard the space station. Or you could be talking just about the operations, the day to day operations of talking with the ground and coordinating the approach of a spacecraft, for example, and docking. And I mean, there's just so many subject matters. What we ended up focusing on is the human aspect of the mission. So astronauts talking about their experience, their personal insights into witnessing our world from afar and being with each other, that strange, unusual community. outside of planet Earth, especially during the context of the pandemic, which is going to unfold inside of episode three and four. What it is to be the only human beings that are off the planet when the world is changing underneath you, you know? And so that perspective, that human perspective, and the vulnerability, the hopes, the aspirations, the regrets, like trying to bring all of that human experience inside of an astronaut's journey and what they talk about. And I was just so fascinated by that aspect of what we were capturing. and how open the astronauts were in their testimonies about their experience, that I found that material to be too powerful not to become the focus, really, of the storytelling. So that's something that they've noticed, that there's a strong focus on the human experience more than on, let's say, the specific science that they do or the specific work that they do. And it's a decision that we made, you know, and that is easily explainable when you see the power of the material that we've captured.
[00:18:23.706] Paul Raphael: As a viewer, the presence that you feel of yourself and of the others in this experience, I think, to put the focus on the humans was the best way to communicate the experience for viewers, right? I think as much as the work they do is fascinating, and in many ways it's why they're there, the experience itself, I think, really benefits from the focus on the human beings, because you're not just watching a document, you're participating in a sense, in what's happening there. And this was the perfect alignment for this to have the most impact that it could.
[00:18:57.089] Kent Bye: I'm wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about the technical aspects of actually getting a camera into space. You obviously have been building cameras for a long time, but had read that in order to meet all the specifications of both the thermals and everything else that you had to go with a commercial off the shelf version of a virtual reality camera. So maybe you could talk about what the challenge was technologically in terms of each of the pieces that you've been doing over the years, you've continued to innovate in terms of the technology. And here you had to do other technological innovations to even get the camera in space for them to be able to use. I'm just curious to hear a little bit more about that.
[00:19:30.213] Paul Raphael: For sure. So yeah, as you mentioned, the studio was founded on the first technology we developed in 2012, 2013, which was cameras and software and processes that end up giving you this final 360 3D image. And this is something we've invested in and developed over the years. When it came to space, of course, we would have loved to design something from scratch. The main reasons we chose to modify an existing off-the-shelf camera were certification. So anything you send up there needs to be space certified, but before it can be space certified, it needs to be FCC certified. And so to skip that whole step, which would have taken months, if not a year or more, you know, it was better to start with something off the shelf. And also we had size and weight constraints, and we needed something that was very easy to use and troubleshoot. And the difference between a camera that you built as an internal tool versus something that's built as a product, that was a large part of the equation as well. So we scanned everything that was out there at the time. We bought just about every camera that existed, tested the hell out of them, both in terms of their quality, but ease of use and stability, and also the relationship or the sense that we got whether or not we could have a relationship with the manufacturers. because we would need to modify and we would need a lot of assistance. Really, this was a partnership, right? And that's how we landed on the Z Camp V1 Pro. And we created two variants of it. The first one, which is what you saw was shot on, was modified quite significantly, mostly to make sure, like you mentioned too, thermal, you know, heat in zero G dissipates very differently than it does here on Earth. And of course, we needed to make sure that it didn't pose a danger to the crew or the station. So we had to make sure certain materials or certain adhesives and different things like that had to be swapped out. But the biggest work was done on the software. That is as much the software that was controlling the camera as is the software that we then used to reconstruct the images. So we really started from the workflow and the tools that we had built for our internal cameras and adapted them to the Z Cam V1 Pro. We also gave it the ability to basically create a slit scan of the environment, giving us kind of a baseline of what the geometry of the environment was like as a way to get the correct geometry of the scenes. In terms of the, I'll say a few words about it, even though you haven't seen any of the footage coming out of the second camera, but the second camera, which was sent a few months ago, is a lot more dramatically modified. This one is going, well, it has been out and will be soon shooting outside of the ISS. And this one also had to account for the vacuum of space, you know, insane fluctuations in temperature, electromagnetic interference that it may cause as we communicate with the camera and see the images. download data. And aesthetically, it's almost unrecognizable from the original as well. But really, the main thing is the software, I think, because to be able to communicate, control, transfer data while being able to have a transparent relationship with NASA, as we did all this, you know, that was a huge part of the work.
[00:22:52.110] Kent Bye: Yeah. I can't wait to see that footage outside of the space station, because I know that you were able to get some shots within this little observation deck area, but it still kind of feels like I'm looking at a 2D screen or it doesn't feel like, I mean, you're already in space. And so you kind of lose a lot of depth cues when you're looking down on earth. But just to have the space station in the near field and the earth down below, I think is going to be pretty mind blowing and perhaps start to evoke this overview effect that a lot of astronauts talk about. But still you're able to get glimpses of that within these pieces, even though you're looking at it. It's some pretty magical moments that are the closest that I felt like I've ever been into being in space and any of the pieces that I've seen so far. But it's still got that frame there that I want to get rid of and to really be immersed out in space to use all the affordances of VR. So I'm happy to hear that those shots are on the way.
[00:23:43.863] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah, so one shot that we're definitely looking forward to capture is a shot where we will place the camera on the Canadian arm. The Canadian arm is this very large, gigantic robotic arm that we're basically using as a cinematic crane for the exterior filming, being able to move the camera at all possible places around the space station. And we will capture a spacewalk that's going to be extraordinary. We will capture exterior shots of the space station. But we will also extend the arm at the nadir of the station so that you have a shot of planet Earth, that is completely not hindered by any space station geometry so if you look behind you you will see the space station 50 feet away but the whole field of view is going to be planet Earth. And we will capture three full orbits around the Earth. And I'm definitely looking forward to, well, film it, but also experience it. Because to your point, it's extraordinary to look at earth through the cupola, but it remains a window. Because it's a media experience and you're not in the real cupola, even though the fidelity is really high and all that, it is a media experience, which is a layer that your mind cannot completely 100% cross. And there's a window inside of that. So it's like two thin layers that it's extraordinary nonetheless, but you can still feel those thin layers between you and the pure experience of the Earth. And that's what we're going to get rid of when we're going to be capturing that shot. So I'm definitely looking forward to feel it, to live it myself and to see and to be able to share that with the world, obviously. And yeah, so I'm particularly excited about that and being able to see if we can generate the kind of feelings and emotions that are triggered inside of an astronaut's soul and spirit, I would say, when they experience that from above. Because I think it's something that all humans deserve to experience. Yeah.
[00:25:46.058] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's already lots of different breathtaking moments in this piece, but yeah, that shot, I can imagine you waiting for the downlink to get that footage and to render it all out and, you know, do whatever you have to do to process it and just get into the headset to see it. But I'm curious to hear a little bit about that process of getting the footage from the space station down, because I mean, these files are huge. And so I don't know if you had to do any specific compression innovations or deal with actually getting a hold of the footage. And yeah, just curious to hear about that process and what it was like to receive some of the first dailies and the footage that you're getting from the space station and to actually be in the headset and to feel like you're on the space station.
[00:26:25.826] Paul Raphael: Yeah, so basically what we did was, so first of all, while we're preparing a shot, we can get a feed of what the camera sees, but in split views. From there, at the time we began production, when we started recording, we couldn't see the images while we recorded. So we had a second camera, which was basically a third person perspective on our camera and what was around it. Which we also use to position the camera because it gives us some spatial awareness. That was what we would look at while we shot.
[00:26:56.448] Kent Bye: Wait, so just to clarify, you had a live feed. Is that what you're saying?
[00:27:00.249] Paul Raphael: A live feed of a regular camera, 2D camera, in which we saw our camera in the context of the scene.
[00:27:06.591] Kent Bye: Okay. And that's what you're using to kind of base your calibration process of iterating to see what the shot looks like, but you have to kind of maybe do that a few times.
[00:27:15.732] Paul Raphael: Yeah, so before we shoot, we can see through the camera itself from Earth, right? But as soon as we hit record, we would lose that feed and we could only rely on our situational camera. Gotcha, gotcha. And from there, we would download basically proxies. So essentially, Felix, you can maybe specify here. I think we would already specify which proxies we wanted because some of them we didn't need. Or did we get all proxies?
[00:27:39.950] Felix Lajeunesse: Now we get all proxies, but we would only select specific sequences for the high resolution transfer, basically, because otherwise we would just completely load the bandwidth. And we can't do that, obviously, because they need it for other operations than just our content download, but keep going, Paul.
[00:27:59.137] Paul Raphael: Yeah, so that's it. So we'd make our selects, download the raw source footage of our selections, and every few months we would get the hard drives basically shipped back to Earth. In all this, NASA needs to approve all the footage. They then release it to us. What's changed since then is that we have been able now to keep the live view of the camera while we're shooting. And in fact, we've been able to live stream from the camera as we record. And in fact, we've been developing this capacity as a separate tool for future live streams from space. So that's something that we've been planning with NASA and that we want to start doing live streams from the ISS. And then eventually the end game of this is being able to bring people live and future deep space exploration. Wow.
[00:28:47.346] Felix Lajeunesse: Which was, by the way, maybe just an additional note on that, which was very interesting looking back, because when we started, the astronauts, sometimes they wanted feedback, you know? It's like, hey, we captured that scene, or I did my astronaut log, and I would like to know your thoughts. Like, was it good? You know, can you give me any kind of feedback? Which is very normal in a working relationship, especially on a creative project. But sometimes, because of that process, it would take Sometimes six weeks, seven weeks before, you could put your eyes into what you filmed seven weeks ago because of this chain of operations that is required and that is necessary. And then sometimes we would get feedback to the astronauts about things that we filmed almost two months ago. It's like, hey, remember that scene that we did, you know? It was great. You know, it was awesome. Maybe next time you can try this, you can try that. So you get used to it and it's okay because contrary to like a feature film that would film in 26 days or something, you're extending the filming process over many, many, many months. And so you kind of think about the flow of communication differently, the flow of production differently, you adapt to that and it's okay. But it was just definitely something to adapt to at the beginning of the process.
[00:29:55.245] Kent Bye: And I'm curious if you could maybe elaborate on some of the themes around women in space and gender that were coming up, especially in the second episode, but also just generally as you were doing this whole project of having some of the first all women spacewalk and other human themes that you're focusing on in the series.
[00:30:13.777] Felix Lajeunesse: So the one thing that we wanted to make sure that we would cover when we started this was that we knew that adaptation to life in space was extremely important because it's a team that would speak both for the astronauts journey and for the audience, for the viewer who are new to that environment. So they would feel like they are evolving with the astronauts. Then we looked at the science. We wanted to explore the science that they do, but not necessarily all the science. We wanted to look into the science that is more future facing, which means science that paves the way for the next steps in human spaceflight and deep space exploration. We knew that we wanted to really look at the community of astronauts and this idea of a space culture, the way that this is our first settlements of humans outside of the earth, you know, and so is there a culture that grows when you have a human community living in a specific environment, you know, over time? And so this idea of the community and trying to understand a culture, be part of it, feel it. So that's something that we wanted to make a lot of room for in the story. And finally, spacewalks was an important target because spacewalks is not just about going outside. It's also all of the preparation that leads you to that extraordinarily dangerous moment, but at the same time, graceful moment, kind of the climax of an astronaut's mission in a way. So that's going to be part of episode four. And that was kind of the baseline. And then through the stories that we captured, a lot of what you evoked earlier in regards to the place of women inside of spaceflight came from the astronauts themselves. So for example, and McLean that is very much present inside of episode two. In her final astronaut log, she talked a lot about, you know, Jerry Cobb, who's that woman who definitely deserved to be among the first astronauts to be part of the Apollo program and get to the moon, but could not because of her gender and how that inspired her as a person pursuing that dream of eventually being an astronaut and contributing to the space program. And so she brought that topic and turned out that she was also training Christina Koch, who is the astronaut that arrived midpoint into episode one and who now holds the record for the longest time spent in space by a woman. And Christina Koch also turned out to be part of the first all-woman spacewalk. So all of those things happened as we were capturing them. They were not necessarily planned. These are things that unfolded in front of our eyes. And we were there to capture that. And that allows you after that to look at this from a perspective and say, okay, like this is an opportunity to actually testify the progress that women have made inside of the world of spaceflight that has been long perceived as a very conservative world, you know, and so now the culture of it is transforming and becoming more progressive. And so to be able to document that and to share that with the world feels like an extraordinary privilege. that we had. But again, something that I think is a benefit of documenting an environment and a group of people over time is that you can witness those transformations that happen and you can be there to actually capture those and turn that into story. So yeah, so that's kind of the journey that we went on.
[00:33:23.930] Kent Bye: So when I watched this piece, one of the things that was really striking to me was just the zero gravity experience and the experience of that as described to them, which is a lot different than actually doing it. There's this philosophical concept of the qualia, which is like, you can imagine what it might be, but you don't really know until you're there and are experiencing it. I know there's a number of different VR creators that went and actually got on one of the airplanes that did the zero G drop and they were like all experiencing it. And that, that for me, at least is still the allure of like, what would it be like? I mean, the VR can contain certain aspects of it, but to actually experience all those different nuances, to me, that was probably one of the more interesting aspects of both the first and second episode was to hear. a lot of those descriptions of what the actual phenomenological experience of what it feels like to be in space. And I was just really glad that you were also focusing on all those phenomenological aspects as well.
[00:34:19.997] Paul Raphael: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as I said earlier, the focus of the series was always going to be the people, and that had a lot to do with emphasizing your sense as a viewer watching these things. And I think that one of the things that I find really fascinating, and that was part of the impetus of this whole yearning to film in space over six or seven years ago, We are relatively stable species in terms of our biology. Yes, we're changing. Our technology is changing us more than anything. And you could argue that space travel is a technology. But it also appears to be an acceleration of our physical evolution as well. So, you know, we started in the sea. We graduated to land, if you want to call it that. And, you know, once space travel becomes more common, once you have a significant population that is living in a way that requires their bodies to do things that are completely alien to what they do on a daily basis here, we may be witnessing the first steps of the next. biological evolution of the human body. And that was something I was extremely fascinated with documenting. And if there's a fraction of that that communicates through the experience, then I think that makes it all worth it. You know, they speak about this in the experience, and it's no secret that when an astronaut returns from the ISS, they have to go through rehabilitation, right? As if their body had degraded. Really, it hasn't degraded. It has transformed. Right? And the longest I think anyone's been up there is roughly a year. And we're starting to talk about much longer missions as we're talking about Mars. In fact, you may not return. So this is really one of the most exciting frontiers of human evolution that we're just starting to document. And to be able to document it in such an immersive medium, I think, is a real privilege. It's really, and not just for us, for humanity at large. And this was, I think, a big part of why we did it. the way we did it and why we wanted to do it in the first place.
[00:36:32.366] Felix Lajeunesse: And I'll add to this something that in the way we build the storytelling, because you were talking about the phenomenology of it all and how it seems to kind of emanate from the astronauts' experience, the way we actually created the conditions for that to happen was that we planned for capturing astronaut logs with each of the astronauts at the beginning of their mission. After just the first few days, the midpoint of their mission and the very end of their mission. And that was strategically placed there. Our allocation of time for interviews were positioned that way. And we were often asking the same questions. But just to get a sense of how their mindset evolves, you know, psychologically, emotionally, physically, you know, how they respond to those ideas. I mean, the questions were always framed differently, right? They were touching on the same themes. And so we wanted to capture the evolution of an astronaut's experience over time. And the idea there was that we could then build an experience that appears like it's a direct manifestation of their experience. And that's where the storytelling comes from. So that allowed us to, from the get-go, completely discard the idea of having an external narrator trying to bring you into the world or taking you by the hand and say, look, this is what they're doing. So that everything would come from their direct experience. And that would be the source of the storytelling And so that was super important. And that's kind of how we managed to do that. The other thing that we encouraged with them is that they would answer questions in a very stream of consciousness way, without having to think about, oh, I need to be concise, or I need to wrap up my idea in a super concise way, because very often, astronauts, and you see that in communications, they're asked to talk to the president, they're asked to talk to different medias, they do like school down links where they will talk to kids and they will answer questions and they have like 20 minutes, you know, and so things are generally very tight and need to be concise and packaged. And, and we felt that this is an opportunity to kind of break and to take that all away. And to basically tell them, look, you're talking to a fellow crew member, that camera is a fellow crew member. And you just create an intimate space and you just talk, you know, you just say what you have to say, just as if you were talking to a friend. Don't think about packaging of the idea. We will deal with that in post, you know, and we want that naturalism, that genuineness, that authenticity. And we encourage a stream of consciousness approach to question and answers. And they embrace that because it allowed them to just speak their mind, right? As if they had a friendly conversation with someone they trust. And I think that that also was part of getting to the heart, getting to the essence of them and what they had to say and what they were experiencing. And I think that that was really key to establishing the tone of the story for Isis Experience.
[00:39:25.414] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable?
[00:39:37.040] Felix Lajeunesse: Can I start, Paul?
[00:39:38.535] Paul Raphael: Go for it. That'll give me some time to formulate.
[00:39:42.277] Felix Lajeunesse: I think that immersive media, when it's well done, can lead to an advancement in consciousness for people. I think that it allows audiences to embrace an experience without filters in its best form, in its best configuration, to just live a direct experience as if it was an experience that you're not living through another character, that you're not living through someone else's story, or you're just experiencing it directly. And it's not just a physical experience, it's also an experience of consciousness. It feels like those thoughts are merging with your thoughts and the story is completely merging with your direct phenomenological personal experience and that therefore can lead to an advancement of your own consciousness or something that can be close to a spiritual experience for some persons. And I think that the effect of an immersive experience can be very profound in that sense. So I like that. I've always been fascinated by that potential of immersive media in terms of where it can go as an art form and as a medium. On our side, we're definitely continuing to leverage immersive media to document human space exploration. Because as Paula Vogt It's an extraordinary journey that is about to accelerate in the next couple of years. I mean, you can already see that there's a lot of momentum around space with Perseverance, Mars, and the private sector is jumping in, the return of humanity to the moon. So it's a fast evolving environment. And we think that more and more and more humans are going to be part of that journey and that will again lead to a transformation of culture and it's going to be part of reshaping the collective imaginary on earth to a certain extent. So we want to continue to document that through immersive media and make immersive media the default medium to access space moving forward. So we're definitely working on that as well.
[00:41:40.893] Paul Raphael: Yeah, I mean, I'll definitely second what Felix said. I think that's one of the things that drew us to the medium was the shift between what has been an observer-centric society. All our media are essentially presented to us, whether it's something that you read or something you watch on a screen. And you end up creating a sense of immersion in your head But the fact is that there's a large part of your being that is disengaged and another that is very much engaged. And that can be very magical. And, you know, in fact, if we're doing what we're doing, it's because of inspiring works that we've watched growing up. And that's still, to this day, movies have that power, or a good book, music. What I'm really excited about is as immersive media kind of take over and become more and more mainstream, which is only a matter of time. You don't need to have any inside info to see that most major tech companies out there who create devices, consumption devices, are shifting towards immersive devices. We are a few years away, maybe a decade, from being an observant to a participant society. That's going to have a huge impact. That's going to change how we are, how we behave, how we perceive reality. And the content that we consume will mix in with our, we are naturally presenceful and active beings. And all of a sudden, we're going to go from staring at small rectangles in our hands to being a part of the content that we consume. And we've been thinking about this now for close to a decade. And having been so intimately involved in the medium and seeing its potential, it is truly awe-inspiring to fathom what we are on the precipice on. And every day, incredibly excited to be exploring this and seeing it grow. And I think that with this project and the projects that we hope to continue to do in this space, series, honestly, I think have the potential to have a profound impact. And we're just thrilled to be a part of this.
[00:43:58.483] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:44:04.085] Felix Lajeunesse: Um, well, yeah, I mean, I really wish that people watch the work in virtual reality. Uh, you know, I think it's the most effort we've ever put into something is this project, you know, and it's the sum of, you know, if people in the community know about what we've done or maybe do not know, regardless, I think that that is the sum of all that we learned so far in immersive media is this project. And so we're so proud of it. And so at the same time, hopeful that it finds its place inside of culture and that it leads to people experiencing something truly new that makes them feel like it made a difference to them, you know, that like, so we're just hoping that it gets to an audience as much as possible. And that's also why we're deploying this project across multiple platforms. So we're releasing on virtual reality, but we're also releasing through 5G-enabled devices in Europe and in Asia through a telco alliance. We're creating dome experiences. We're creating the IMAX version of this. We're going to be producing a TV show based on the ISS experience. in 2022 and the content is also going to be the focus of a large-scale traveling exhibit that's going to tour Canada, the U.S. and then the world. So we're trying to get that content to everybody because we think it matters and we're proud of that. So I just encourage people to experience it and hopefully get something out of it that will matter to them.
[00:45:33.275] Paul Raphael: Yeah, and just to note about this, we've been talking about the uniqueness of being able to bring people up on the ISS and outside and beyond in full immersion. What's really interesting about the multi-platform approach here is that While we have a virtual reality camera in any position, whether it be on or outside of the ISS or eventually on the moon, traditionally, to get a 2D image, you would have to have either a stationary camera or an astronaut filming a scene. Perhaps you have it on a vehicle or on some kind of moving arm. In our case, every shot we take becomes an environmental capture within which we can create a direct cinematography that would never have been possible to record with a regular camera. So in the case of the stuff we've shot on the ISS, we are able to create really exciting cinematography with the camera free-floating. We can spin around We orient ourselves as an astronaut flips in midair. We can pan at the right moment in any direction. We're even working on volumetric pulse processes on our footage to actually be able to translate the camera movement as well as pan and tilt and roll. And so we're getting closer to being able to have a virtual cameraman just about anywhere we send our cameras. And I think that's exciting for the medium that remains the most accessible today, which is two-dimensional video. So that was a surprise that we discovered early on as we got our first images from space and started playing around with them. And it became a major part of our space endeavor because for the project of this ambition to exist, it needs to reach as many people as possible. And until everyone has a headset, hitting those rectangular screens is a must. So we want to hit them with as much impact as we can.
[00:47:23.865] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, Felix and Paul, this is an amazing piece and I look forward for people to see it. Definitely a highlight of what you're able to do. And like you said, a distillation of all the lessons you've learned over the many years. So thank you again for joining me and telling me more about the story. So thank you.
[00:47:38.795] Felix Lajeunesse: Thank you. Always a pleasure chatting. Always nice to talk to you. Thank you so much.
[00:47:43.037] Kent Bye: So, that was Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Arfiel. They are the co-founders of Felix and Paul Studios. So, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, this series is one of the more breathtaking and astoundingly amazing immersive experiences that I've seen within VR. There were some times of watching some footage of the latest episode that I just was getting tingles down my spine of how just, I don't know, it starts to get into that overview effect of being above the earth and witnessing the earth and I don't know, it's just really profound to be able to see some of the perspectives and some of the shots they were able to capture. And it's hard to really put into words until you can experience it for yourself. And yeah, I think just the storytelling and what they had to do to kind of architect it and to get these astronaut logs at the beginning, middle, and end of their journey to see how they're changing over time. And just how they're focusing on the phenomenological experience of what it feels like to be in space and be in relationship to these crews. what it was like to be at the International Space Station. I just really appreciated their approach and their focus. And it's really just quite compelling just to see this as a human story that happens to take place in the context of space. And also just being able to capture some of these other cultural changes in terms of being able to see the first woman spacewalk and to talk to the astronauts and reflecting on all these different issues and their own experiences as they're up there. The other really interesting thing to me is the fact that they're able to use these 360 cameras and then be able to create what's essentially a virtual cameraman to be able to do different painting shots and translate the 360 into 2D in different ways. And so, they're going to be producing different TV shows and IMAX and Dome experiences. They're also going to be having this large-scale exhibit that's launched now initially in Montreal, but now it's just opening within the last couple of days in Houston, called The Infinite, where you have this location-based entertainment where you're using the MetaQuest 2 that's been renamed. You're walking around these environments being tracked, so you're able to physically walk around what it would feel like to be within the Space Station, which is Pretty amazing. I saw a trailer of it. It looks quite good. I hope to see it at some point but also just translate this into all these other communication media and to use the 360 camera to be able to have that flexibility and to me it's just striking that they are going into space to shoot these shots and then to have all this technological evolution to be able to take what they have with those panoramic shots and be able to Translate that into different media So, very curious to see where they take that. But it seems to be, in order to really make a project like this viable, of having all these different communication modalities to be able to share these experiences. There's ways in which you can still see this within the VR experience, which I think is highly preferable than seeing it in, say, some of the shots that they were showing at the end of Connect 2021 was in the Oculus Venues or Meta Venues. I don't even know what they're called now. meta. It's like a 180-degree, but you're also watching it from the context of this virtual balcony where you can see other people. It's not like being fully immersed in space. It's kind of suboptimal from what I would want to see, which is being fully immersed within the VR environment. But even in the VR environment, you don't have a complete field of view. You have a 90-degree field of view. That's a lot different than say if you were to watch some of this stuff within a dome experience And I'm also very curious to see this translation into a dome experience to see it unhindered from any of the virtual mediated technologies But I will say that the stereoscopic experience of the VR is quite compelling and the dome It's not going to be quite that same level of stereoscopic viewing of it But when you were looking out from the cupola into the earth, you don't have many depth cues anyway And so I would prefer to see it in the full dome type of experience. So Anyway, I'm super excited about this project and I can't wait until the final episode because I think there was some shots they showed at connect 2021 that are not in the third episode They do have maybe three or four or five different shots from outside shot in space But I just want to see frankly a whole episode of just going around space I mean it is good to be able to hear the stories and to see that but there's something transcendent to just be able to watch the earth as it goes around and I I'm not sure if they had captured all those different shots as I was having this conversation here back in March, but it does sound like they were able to capture, at least the plan was, to be able to go around the Earth three full revolutions. Just to be able to watch that footage, I think, would be just amazing. A lot of times, when you're going around, they end up editing. I just want to see what it feels like to go around the Earth and see the revolutions of the sunrise and the sunset. I just think that would be pretty amazing, just to watch that raw footage. I'm really hoping that it came out and they're going to make that available in some ways. They did have an extra, which was the home planet, where you're looking at the Coppola. But again, I just want to be out in space and be able to see some of these shots. Yeah, really quite an amazing achievement and storytelling as they're saying that this is kind of like the pinnacle of all the things that they've been learning over the years and all the ways in which they had to build a trust with NASA and to build up to this point where they wanted to film a spacewalk so yeah for me this is like the pinnacle of what you would want to see in a type of 360 video or immersive experiences to taking you to a place that not very many people in the world get to go to and just reveal different aspects of the environment and the culture and to give you a vibe of what it feels like. They were saying that a couple astronauts had watched the VR version after they had come back from their trip, and they said it felt like going home. So, just to be able to give you that full spatial experience of being in... It feels like a very claustrophobic and just very cluttered environment of all these modular squares connected to each other. It's really surreal to be watching somebody and they're standing up and you turn back behind you and there's someone horizontal doing some exercise or something. It's just quite surreal to feel like you're on this space station. I mean, obviously you don't feel like you're there, but just to get the visual representation of some of the different scenes that you would see if you were there. Things are mind-blowing that you don't see otherwise. Yeah, if you do have a chance to check this out, definitely check it out. And again, like show your friends and family if you're just getting a new VR headset or if you just got a brand new headset. This is a really great series of experiences to see. There's over 100 minutes of content now that you can check out. So definitely check it out. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.